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Ex-defense minister’s investigation will live up to Mexico’s prestige

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‘In the past, Mexico wasn’t up to the task of punishing criminals. Now it’s different: ‘López Obrador’

The Mexican investigation into former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos – who returned home on Wednesday after the United States dropped drug trafficking and money laundering charges against him – will live up to the country’s “prestige,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Thursday, asserting that it would be “almost suicide” to bring the ex-army chief to Mexico and then do nothing.

“There is confidence, both in the United States and in Mexico, that the investigation will meet the highest standards of effectiveness and honesty,” the foreign minister told President López Obrador’s morning news conference.

Ebrard said the United States has full confidence in and supports the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR), which is carrying out the investigation into Cienfuegos’ alleged wrongdoings, and the Mexican judicial system.

“We think that’s very significant coming from the judicial authorities of the United States,” he said.

Agreeing to the United States Department of Justice request for the charges against former president Enrique Peña Nieto’s defense minister to be dismissed, U.S. federal Judge Carol Amon said there was no evidence or suspicion that Mexico wouldn’t conduct an investigation.

salvador cienfuegos
Will Cienfuegos face trial? Many analysts doubt it.

However, there are doubts about whether evidence the United States has given Mexico – including thousands of intercepted cell phone messages that allegedly show that Cienfuegos colluded with the H-2 drug cartel – will be admissible in Mexican courts given that it was obtained by U.S. authorities here without the authorization of a Mexican judge.

Many analysts believe that the former army chief, arrested at Los Angeles airport last month, will never be tried here, let alone set foot in jail.

But Ebrard said there will be justice “according to the provisions of Mexican law and the investigations that the FGR will carry out.”

He added that it would be “almost suicide” not to subject Cienfuegos to a thorough investigation. If that were the government’s intention it would have been better to leave him in the United States, Ebrard said.

López Obrador called on the public to have confidence in the investigation. The president added that Cienfuegos must be investigated in Mexico as a matter of sovereignty.

“We can’t allow foreign agencies to try Mexicans if there is no proof,” López Obrador said, apparently ignoring the United States’ assertion that it had a “strong” case against the former army chief.

“Besides there are cooperation agreements that have to be respected. How is is that there is a [bilateral] cooperation agreement in this area and we’re not informed that he is going to be arrested or that there is an investigation open … [against] General Cienfuegos? If that’s the case, what are cooperation agreements for?”

The president declared that the law is now applied with rectitude in Mexico as a result of his government coming to power.

“This idea that [criminals] are punished there [in the United States] and not here was created because the authorities in Mexico weren’t up to the task. Now it’s different, now there is a change,” he said.

The United States’ decision to allow Cienfuegos was highly unusual because it has previously shown little faith in Mexico’s justice system.

Several sources have said that the United States government agreed to Mexico’s request for the general to be returned because Mexico threatened to end or limit cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Announcing the decision to seek the dismissal of the charges faced by Cienfuegos, U.S. Attorney General William Barr and his Mexican counterpart Alejandro Gertz Manero said the two countries remain committed to “bilateral law enforcement cooperation.”

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